Dodgers’ NLDS Game 5 loss is on Dave Roberts

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The Dodgers are out of the playoffs much earlier than anticipated after dropping Game 5 of the NLDS to the Nationals on Wednesday night. After comfortably leading the Nationals 3-0 through five innings and 3-1 through seven, the Dodgers’ bullpen — specifically Clayton Kershaw and Joe Kelly — forked over the lead. The Nationals were off to the races, ultimately winning 7-3 in 10 innings.

Here’s what transpired:

  • Manager Dave Roberts brought Kershaw in for the final out of the seventh inning in relief of starter Walker Buehler, who exited with runners on first and second and two outs
  • Kershaw remained in the game in the eighth, immediately serving up back-to-back solo home runs to Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto, tying the game at 3-3
  • Kelly entered the game in the ninth inning, working a 1-2-3 inning
  • Kelly remained in the game in the 10th inning, loading the bases with no outs on a walk, a ground-rule double, and an intentional walk before surrendering a go-ahead grand slam to Howie Kendrick

Dodgers fans and people who have watched the Dodgers in recent years saw that happening from a mile away. Consider Dodgers fan and Baseball Prospectus editor-in-chief Craig Goldstein, who tweeted on Monday, “Already getting annoyed at how the Dodgers are going to use Kershaw in Game 5 […] when they don’t need to anyway because their bullpen is good enough to not have to turn to a starter when Buehler is throwing.

Bullpen management is not Roberts’ strong suit, especially in the playoffs. Here’s an article Craig wrote last postseason about Roberts’ bullpen management. How about one from 2017? And here’s one from me in 2016, just for good measure.

Roberts compounded his error by gambling on Kelly after he pitched a 1-2-3 inning in the top of the ninth. Kelly went multiple innings in eight of his 55 appearances during the regular season. He allowed nine runs in total across those 12 1/3 innings. Kelly was also coming off of a disastrous Game 3 appearance in which he loaded the bases on two walks and a single, uncorked a wild pitch, and walked another batter before leaving without recording an out. Kelly’s 10th inning in Game 5 went: walk, ground-rule double, intentional walk, grand slam. His 1-2-3 ninth inning was less predictable than that.

The Dodgers’ bullpen as a unit isn’t bad. Its aggregate 3.85 ERA ranked fifth in baseball. Its 4.06 FIP ranked sixth and 4.25 xFIP seventh. Closer Kenley Jansen appeared in the NLDS just once, with a six-run lead in the ninth inning of Game 3. Pedro Báez recorded two outs in the series, one apiece in Game 2 and 4. Adam Kolarek held Soto 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in three at-bats previously in the series. None of them were used in Game 5 in meaningful situations. The Dodgers paid dearly for Roberts’ lack of confidence in the rest of his bullpen.

Kershaw and Kelly are going to take some heat for their failures in Game 5. It’s not squarely on their shoulders. Roberts didn’t put them in a position to succeed. He mismanaged his bullpen again and now a team that won 106 games during the regular season will not advance into the NLCS. One wonders if this loss might be so bad that it costs Roberts his job in L.A.

Colin Poche, Rays go to arbitration just $125,000 apart

Colin Poche torn UCL
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Reliever Colin Poche went to salary arbitration with the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday with the sides just $125,000 apart.

The gap between the $1.3 million the pitcher asked for and the $1,175,000 the team offered was the smallest among the 33 players who exchanged proposed arbitration figures last month. The case was heard by John Woods, Jeanne Vonhof and Walt De Treux, who will hold their decision until later this month.

A 29-year-old left-hander, Poche had Tommy John surgery on July 29, 2020, and returned to the major leagues last April 22 after six appearances at Triple-A Durham. Poche was 4-2 with a 3.99 ERA and seven saves in 65 relief appearances for the Rays. He struck out 64 and walked 22 in 58 2/3 innings.

Poche had a $707,800 salary last year.

Tampa Bay went to arbitration on Monday with reliever Ryan Thompson, whose decision also is being held until later this month. He asked for $1.2 million and the Rays argued for $1 million.

Rays right-hander Jason Adam and outfielder Harold Ramirez remain scheduled for hearings.

Players and teams have split four decisions thus far. All-Star pitcher Max Fried ($13.5 million) lost to Atlanta and reliever Diego Castillo ($2.95 million) was defeated by Seattle, while pitcher Jesus Luzardo ($2.45 million) and AL batting champion Luis Arraez ($6.1 million) both beat the Marlins.

A decision also is pending for Los Angeles Angels outfielder Hunter Renfroe.

Eighteen additional players are eligible for arbitration and hearings are scheduled through Feb. 17. Among the eligible players is Seattle utilityman Dylan Moore, who has a pending three-year contract worth $8,875,000.